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Overview of Writing for an Academic Discussion in TOEFL Writing

The Writing for an Academic Discussion task in TOEFL Writing (Writing Task 2) has been part of the TOEFL test since July 2023, when significant TOEFL changes were made. In this task, you’ll be shown an online academic discussion with a question from a professor about a topic. The question will ask for your opinion. There will already be a couple of responses from other students, and you’ll need to contribute your ideas to the discussion. You’ll have a total of 10 minutes for the task.

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Here’s an example of what you’ll see on your screen.

In this post, we’ll cover our top 3 tips to help you do well in the Writing for an Academic Discussion task and boost your overall TOEFL score for the TOEFL iBT exam.

If you’re wanting to improve in your Integrated Writing task, click here.

Tip 1 – In the TOEFL test, develop your ideas clearly

According to the official TOEFL scoring criteria for this task, you need to have relevant and clearly developed ideas. You need to make sure your ideas contribute to the discussion and are well supported with reasons and examples.

Read the sample response below.

Most students have smartphones these days, so it would be very difficult to ban them completely. Smartphones are very addictive, and I think we are all a bit distracted by them, not just students. That is a big problem for society. If students have access to their smartphones in class, they can use them to help them learn. I think that they are good for learning. If I had had a smartphone when I was at school, I would not have been so bored during class. Having a smartphone would have made lessons much more interesting. We just had to listen to the teacher. We could not use any technology like that.

This writer is writing about the correct topic – whether smartphones should be allowed in school classrooms – but they haven’t developed their ideas clearly and supported them with reasons and examples. There’s also some repetition and irrelevant information, such as the idea that everyone is distracted by their smartphones, not just students. All of this makes it difficult to follow the writer’s ideas.

Now read this sample response.

It is true that smartphones have the potential to be distracting, but as long as teachers establish some clear rules and guidelines around their use, I think smartphones should be allowed in class. In a traditional classroom, the teacher has only a small number of tools at their disposal, which tends to have a negative impact on student motivation and engagement. However, when students are given access to smartphones in the classroom, the number of tools available increases significantly. For instance, to revise course content, teachers can use apps to create interactive games and quizzes. Rather than asking students to discuss ideas in small groups, they can have students post short videos online that other students can watch. Students usually really enjoy these activities. This makes them more motivated and improves their learning.

This response would get a higher TOEFL score for the development criterion because the writer’s ideas are much more clearly developed. They give clear reasons for their opinion and use examples to help them explain what they’re saying.

Notice that the writer uses linking words and phrases such as as long as, However and For instance to help connect their sentences. This makes the response easier to read. Also, the example about interactive games and quizzes helps the reader understand what kind of tools the writer is referring to in the previous sentence.

Tip 2 – Use a variety of language for TOEFL Writing

The second scoring criterion is variety in the use of language. In other words, you need to show the examiner that you can use a range of grammatical structures and vocabulary. To get a high score in this area, you need to make an effort to use more difficult structures and less common vocabulary.

Look at the sentences below.

Students usually really enjoy these activities. This makes them more motivated and improves their learning.

There aren’t any errors in these sentences, but we can still make some changes to get a higher score for this criterion.


Both sentences are simple sentences, which means there’s only one clause in each sentence. There’s nothing wrong with using simple sentences, but if you want to get a high score, you should also try to include some compound and complex sentences. For this example, let’s make a complex sentence by using a relative clause.

Students usually really enjoy these activities, which makes them more motivated and improves their learning.

TOEFL Vocabulary

We can also improve the vocabulary by using some more advanced words.

Students are typically highly engaged during such activities, which boosts their motivation and enhances their learning.

We changed:

usually → typically
really enjoy → highly engaged
these activities → such activities
increases → boosts
motivated → motivation
improves → enhances

Note that the words we’ve chosen are still common ones. Students sometimes try to use very sophisticated words that are actually very uncommon. This can make their writing unclear and make it sound very unnatural. Don’t do this. Choose common words that still show how good your vocabulary is.

Tip 3 – Check for language errors for a high TOEFL score

The final scoring criterion is correct use of language. This means it’s important to check your response for grammatical and vocabulary errors, including issues with spelling, capitalization, and punctuation. You can make some minor mistakes and still get a high score, but you should still try to make as few mistakes as possible.

Easy things to check for:

  • spelling mistakes
  • subject–verb agreement
  • mistakes with singular and plural forms
  • incorrect punctuation

Read the sentences below. There are 5 language errors. Can you find them?

Secondly, they facilitates collaboration between student. If they are working on a group project for instance students can use shared documents to collaborate in real time. This is more efficent than working with pen and paper and better reflect what students will be required to do once they join the workforce.

More help with TOEFL Writing

Need more help with TOEFL Writing? We have you covered! For help with the TOEFL Writing for an Academic Discussion task in the TOEFL test, head to our TOEFL login page and sign up for free to access method lessons, TOEFL practice tests, live classes with expert teachers and more. We have everything you need to help you quickly achieve the score you desire in your TOEFL exam.

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Secondly, they facilitate collaboration between students. If they are working on a group project, for instance, students can use shared documents to collaborate in real time. This is more efficient than working with pen and paper and better reflects what students will be required to do once they join the workforce.
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